Food Safety News
If the World Trade Organization (WTO) sides with Canada and Mexico in their complaint that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) laws in the U.S. put their meat exports at an unfair disadvantage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should rescind those laws and allow Congress to resolve the issue, said 112 members of Congress in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The letter was written by Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) and Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), ranking member and chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit, respectively. Another 110 of their colleagues also signed on.
“If the WTO finds the COOL rule to be non-compliant, the resulting consequences could have a detrimental impact on our economy,” said Costa in a statement. “Congress must be prepared to act and find a solution that maintains a healthy relationship with our trading partners and protects the American economy.”
COOL laws mandate that meat products be labeled to tell where the food animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
The members’ letter comes on the heels of Tuesday’s D.C. Circuit Court decision to uphold the COOL rule following the American Meat Institute’s appeal of an earlier legal decision supporting the rule.
The WTO has reportedly finished its most recent compliance report on COOL set to be released in September, according to the trade publication Washington Trade Daily. That new report apparently still finds a number of problems with the COOL law as it currently exists.
The WTO had previously determined the U.S. COOL law incompatible with WTO obligations in Canada and Mexico’s initial complaint. In May 2013, USDA presented an adjusted rule that the two countries also challenged on the same grounds that it put their meat exports at a competitive disadvantage.
Thursday was a busy day for the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. In addition to publishing its new poultry inspection rule, the agency also released its response to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s petition, denying the organization’s request to have antibiotic-resistant Salmonella declared an adulterant.
CSPI’s petition, originally filed on May 25, 2011, called on FSIS to issue an interpretive rule declaring antibiotic-resistant (ABR) strains of Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella Heidelberg, Salmonella Newport and Salmonella Typhimurium to be adulterants when found in ground meat and poultry. The declaration would mean that the agency would have to test for these pathogens and remove contaminated products from the food supply.
“We have concluded that more data are needed to determine whether ABR Salmonella should have a different status as an adulterant under the [Federal Meat Inspection Act] and [Poultry Products Inspection Act] than Salmonella strains that are susceptible to antibiotics,” reads the FSIS response.
“The petition asserts that the crucial legal difference between ABR Salmonella and susceptible Salmonella strains is that ABR Salmonella occurs as the result of human intervention, i.e., the administration of antibiotics to live animals used in the production of meat and poultry,” the letter continues.
FSIS responds that ABR microbes can be present in food animals even if they haven’t been exposed to antibiotics, so more data would be needed on how much the administration of antibiotics contributes to the presence of ABR Salmonella in ground meat and poultry.
Another important aspect of the issue is whether “proper cooking” kills a pathogen. FSIS states that, in the case of E. coli strains that have been declared adulterants, consumers sometimes consider ground beef cooked rare, medium-rare or medium to be properly cooked even though it hasn’t reached a high-enough internal temperature to kill off the pathogen.
But for Salmonella, the agency says it is not aware of data to suggest that consumers think ground poultry, pork or lamb is properly cooked if it is less than “well-done.”
Other areas where FSIS said the request lacks data are:
- the number of Salmonella per serving in different known food products responsible for outbreaks in order to understand the actual ineffective dose of different strains
- whether ABR Salmonella causes more severe illnesses
- that ABR Salmonella is more heat-resistant than susceptible strains
“USDA’s failure to act on antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in the meat supply ignores vital information about the public health risk posed by these pathogens,” said CSPI Food Safety Director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “Despite numerous examples of outbreaks linked to resistant pathogens, USDA leaves consumers vulnerable to illnesses that carry a much greater risk of hard-to-treat infections leading to hospitalization.”
After three years of waiting for a response, CSPI filed a lawsuit on May 28, 2014, asking the court to require the agency to respond. FSIS’ denial is “without prejudice,” meaning that CSPI can submit a revised petition with additional information if they choose to do so.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture published the final rule of its Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection on Thursday, requiring all poultry processing plants to engage in additional microbiological testing and establishing the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS), which companies can choose to opt into or not.
Predictably, the agency’s move drew reactions from across the spectrum.
“USDA is to be commended for standing up for food safety in the face of significant pressure,” said National Turkey Federation President Joel Brandenberger, adding that the rule “provides additional tools to plants and federal inspectors to verify that plant food-safety programs are protecting against foodborne illness.”
One of the major complaints about the rule when it was proposed in 2012 was that it increased the maximum inspection line speed to 175 birds per minute. USDA said it heard these comments and decided to keep the maximum at 140 birds per minute as allowed in its other inspection systems.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) — the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. — had a modestly positive reaction to the line speed change.
“Responding to a key concern raised by the courageous poultry workers who exposed the human cost of bringing chicken to our dinner plates, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez today took an important step to prioritize worker safety,” said NCLR CEO and President Janet Murguía. “Although life-altering injuries are already far too widespread among this workforce, I am proud to say that the collective efforts of tireless advocates helped the administration prevent a bad situation from becoming worse.”
Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, thanked “coalition partners in labor, food safety and the civil rights community for standing side by side with us throughout this process.” In his statement, Hansen also thanked the U.S. Department of Labor “for raising important safety questions” and Vilsack “for listening to our concerns and taking the necessary steps to fix this rule.”
But not everyone was pleased with the outcome. Some groups say that 140 birds per minute — with 2.3 seconds to inspect each bird — is still too fast.
“This is not a meaningful victory because there are not accompanying worker safety regulations to deal with the musculoskeletal disorders and other work-related injuries that both the plant workers and USDA inspectors suffer every day working in the poultry slaughter plants,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
Industry was disappointed with the line speed change for a different reason: “It is extremely unfortunate and disappointing that politics have trumped sound science, 15 years of food and worker safety data and a successful pilot program with plants operating at 175 birds per minute,” said National Chicken Council President Mike Brown. “The rule also goes against global precedent, in which the limiting factors for line speeds are the ability to meet food safety standards, keeping workers safe, and the capability of the equipment to run effectively — not government regulations. Broiler plants in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Belgium and Germany, among others, all operate at line speeds of 200 or more birds per minute.”
Others are still wary of the rule’s ability to address food safety concerns.
“This rule means fewer USDA food safety inspectors in poultry slaughter facilities, which is a recipe for more foodborne illness and more people in the hospital,” said Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY). “We fully expect industry will flock to the more lax HIMP processing, which has not been supported by rigorous evaluation.”
While also dealing with the denial of their petition to USDA to have strains of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella declared as adulterants, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that, “With more than 600 people sick from the Foster Farms outbreak alone, this is hardly the time to reduce USDA’s oversight of the poultry industry.”
A 12-member jury and six alternates — 10 men and eight women in all — were selected Thursday in the criminal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.
Opening arguments will begin Friday from government prosecutors and defense attorneys for former peanut company owner Stewart Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson.
A large pool of prospective jurors was summoned to the C.B. King U.S. Courthouse in Albany, GA, this past Monday because federal Judge W. Louis Sands rightly suspected that many of those called would have difficulty serving for the expected eight-week length of the felony trial.
It took from Monday until mid-day on Thursday to select the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear evidence in what lawyers for all parties involved agree is a “complex” criminal case. Much of the selection process took place behind closed doors where prospective jurors could be interviewed privately, meaning they all did a lot of waiting.
In a 76-count indictment unsealed in February 2013, the three former executives were charged with felonies involving widespread fraud and conspiracy associated with shipments of misbranded and adulterated peanut butter. All the charges stem from an investigation into the 2008-09 nationwide Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 700 people and resulted in nine deaths. The source of the outbreak was traced to PCA’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant.
Jury selection was not the only action getting attention from the four sets of lawyers involved in the case. A new motion to “compel discovery” was filed with the court on Wednesday by Thomas J. Bondurant Jr. from Stewart Parnell’s defense team.
Tardy discovery, meaning the late submission of documents by the government to the defense team, was already responsible for a two-week delay in the trial.
In his latest motion, Bondurant claims that government attorneys are in violation of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure because they have not responded to “repeated requests for discovery” of materials related to 14 expert witnesses the prosecution plans to call to testify during the trial.
Bondurant says the defense is entitled to “proper expert disclosure,” including a summary of the expert’s opinion, with “the bases and reasons for those opinions” and the witness’s qualifications.
“For example, this should inform the requesting party whether the expert will be providing only background information on a particular issue or whether the witness will actually offer an opinion,” he writes in his motion.
Bondurant cites precedents from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to buttress his argument. He says only an 85-page report from one FBI analyst has been provided to the defense so far concerning this particular list of prospective expert witnesses. It includes five computer discs containing underlying data.
“The defendants will, by the lateness of the government’s production of these reports, need to review these reports and any related material while the trial is underway and while the defendants continue their review of voluminous documents only recently provided by the government containing so-called Jencks material,” he states.
Bondurant says the defense team believes they should have the witness materials at least six days in advance of any expert testimony being offered.
The prosecution, led by Alan Dasher, assistant U.S Attorney for the Middle District, had not responded to the defense motion by late Thursday.
Sands has told the jury that the trial will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. The judge has also advised that motions or other issues to be decided without the jury present will be heard after 2 p.m. daily.
(Editor’s note: Dallas Carter was the courtroom observer for Food Safety News and assisted in compiling this report.)
Seventeen months since the first illnesses appeared in March 2013, the Foster Farms-linked Salmonella outbreak has been declared over by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The final tally of confirmed illnesses came in at 634 people in 29 states and Puerto Rico. Of those cases, at least 241 people (38 percent) were hospitalized.
Illnesses connected to the California-based poultry producer hit its home state the hardest, with 490 cases counted in California alone. Other states with numerous cases included Arizona (25 cases), Washington (20) and Oregon (17).
CDC officials told Food Safety News that the number of Salmonella cases in the affected states has returned to the normal rate for this time of year.
Along with that, government tests on retail Foster Farms chicken meat have not shown evidence of the outbreak strains for several months now, said Dr. Matthew Wise, outbreak response team lead for the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases.
In the time since the outbreak began, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked Foster Farms to implement additional safety measures in its production plants to mitigate Salmonella contamination, but the agency did not have the legal authority to shut the plants down based on Salmonella contamination. Foster Farms did implement the requested safety measures.
“A lot of work has been done on the part of Foster Farms and the USDA to fix the problem,” Wise said. “We’re confident that positive changes have occurred.”
Wise added that, according to recent internal testing at Foster Farms, Salmonella levels on the company’s chicken products have seen “a pretty significant decline.”
From June 2012 to April 2013, Foster Farms chicken was implicated in another outbreak that sickened 134 people, predominantly in Washington and Oregon.
CDC estimates that, for every one confirmed case of Salmonella, another 29 go unreported. However, the most severe cases are typically those that end up being detected.
Salmonella is commonly found on raw poultry products, and Salmonella from poultry is assumed to cause a baseline level of illnesses continually. The outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken elevated illness numbers above that baseline and prompted an investigation first announced publicly in October 2013.
Wise said that the agency continually monitors for new illnesses that might connect back to an outbreak like the one with Foster Farms.
“It’s been a long, complicated investigation into an unfortunate outbreak, but hopefully we’ve all learned something from it,” he said.
Graphics courtesy of CDC.
The new poultry inspection rule announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires additional microbiological testing at all poultry processing facilities and introduces a fifth inspection system available for U.S. plants to voluntarily adopt.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the rule a “longstanding effort” to “modernize our system” and said the agency is confident that it will result in safer food.
USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) already tests for Salmonella and Campylobacter, Vilsack said, but this rule requires plants to do additional testing at least twice per shift.
“They will have to pick the pathogen that they believe is a hazard within their establishment, and, being a poultry establishment, it could either be Campylobacter or Salmonella,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza.
“This is extraordinarily important,” Vilsack said. “We think it will increase the chances of us detecting problems and it places a responsibility and burden on the processing facility to do additional testing.”
The New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) is based on the HAACP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) and directs poultry companies to sort their own product for quality defects before presenting it to FSIS inspectors.
“In this option, we’re moving away from a system that was devised and designed as far back as 1957, where individual inspectors are at the beginning of a line taking a look at issues that really involve quality assurance, not so much food safety,” Vilsack said. “We still have a responsibility to inspect carcasses, and we will continue to have inspectors at the end of the evisceration line doing that important inspection.”
The goal is to free up inspectors on each line to be able to ensure that sampling and testing are done properly and sanitation requirements are met, and to verify compliance with food safety rules.
“They’re all going to be performing food safety tasks that are more relevant to public health and food safety than sorting duties that they’re relegated to today,” Almanza said.
After many public comments expressed concern that the proposed increased line speed of 175 birds per minute would jeopardize worker safety, FSIS responded by maintaining the maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute to match all other existing poultry inspection systems.
According to Vilsack, the plants that have been using HIMP on an experimental basis for more than a decade have an average line speed of 131 birds per minute.
“We are still looking to improve worker safety,” he said. The rule also requires plants adopting the NPIS system to set up a method of notifying employees about initial indications of injury and encouraging early reporting of injury. In addition, FSIS inspectors will be trained to watch for injuries and report concerns directly to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
FSIS estimates that the NPIS will prevent nearly 5,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter foodborne illnesses each year. The system is part of the agency’s Salmonella Action Plan, unveiled last December, along with revised pathogen reduction performance standards for all poultry and new standards for poultry parts, which will be announced later this year.
Vilsack said that the department does not have an estimate of how many companies will choose to opt in to NPIS.
“This is a significant opportunity to bring the inspection system for poultry into the 21st century, relying on sampling and testing, understanding the science of pathogens much better than we did in 1957, and, I think, it also reflects a department that took very seriously the comments that were provided over the last several years about this rule,” Vilsack said.
The Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County has issued a health alert for the county after 58 cases of a parasitic illness had been reported as of July 29.
Cryptosporidium is a parasite found in contaminated water, and can make people very sick. Symptoms include severe cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
“It really has to do with coming in contact with contaminated fecal matter where this parasite lives,” said the department’s Maggie Hall on Thursday.
Cryptosporidium spreads easily in water, and since half the cases have come from public pools and water parks in Pinellas County, those facilities were alerted, and one was shut down as a precaution.
The disease can also be spread if hands are not washed after toilet use or changing diapers. From there, it can spread to surfaces, toys and food.
The highest rates of Cryptosporidium infection are in those younger than 18. The disease also can affect animals.
Hall suggested the following steps to prevent transmission of the parasite:
- Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often.
- Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside as germs can spread to surfaces or objects in and around the pool and spread illness.
- Shower before entering the water.
- Wash hands with soap and water after changing diapers.
VR Green Farms of San Clemente, CA, is voluntarily recalling a variety of its jarred food products because they may have been improperly produced, therefore making them susceptible to contamination by Clostridium botulinum.
The recalled products include Pine Nut Basil Pesto, Pickled Farm Mix, Old World Tomato Sauce, Sundried Tomatoes in Olive Oil, Tuscan Grilling Sauce and Pasta Sauce. Photographs of these products can be found here. The products were sold at the VR Green Farms stand in San Clemente, CA, and via the Internet to consumers throughout the United States.
Ingestion of botulism toxin from improperly processed jarred and canned foods may lead to serious illness and death. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is coordinating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Ohio Department of Health in the investigation of two cases of suspected foodborne botulism infections that may be associated with consumption of the firm’s Pine Nut Basil Pesto.
Botulism toxin is odorless and colorless. Consumers who have any of these products or any foods made with these products should discard them immediately. Double-bag the jars in plastic bags and place in a trash receptacle for non-recyclable trash. Wear gloves when handling these products or wash your hands with soap and running water afterward.
Botulism is a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The initial symptoms frequently experienced are double or blurred vision, drooping eyelids, and dry or sore throat. Progressive descending paralysis, usually symmetrical, may follow. Infants with botulism appear lethargic, feed poorly, are constipated, have a weak cry and poor muscle tone.
CDPH recommends that anyone experiencing ill effects after consuming these products should consult their health care provider. Consumers who observe the product being offered for sale should report the activity to CDPH at (800) 495-3232.
After three days of work to select a jury for the criminal trial of three former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) executives, the final 52 prospective jurors will return this morning for “the striking process.”
U.S. District Court Judge W. Louis Sands hopes to have a 12-member jury and four alternates selected today so the trial can get underway on Friday.
During the past three days, Sands has excused some prospective jurors based on how some answered his questions during private interview sessions and others who were able to persuade him that they could not handle, for either personal or financial reasons, serving on a jury for a trial that could last eight weeks or more. Those cuts took the number of prospects down to the 52 who will return Thursday for a fourth day in the selection process.
Once empaneled, the jury will decide whether former PCA chief executive Stewart Parnell, his peanut broker brother Michael Parnell, and former quality control manager Mary Wilkerson are guilty or not on felony charges involving conspiracy and fraud, along with obstruction of justice and illegal shipping of misbranded and adulterated peanut butter in interstate commerce.
Also on Wednesday, Sands issued two written orders that went against defense motions in the case. In the first, he put his bench ruling into writing, refusing to dismiss charges against Wilkerson or to give her a trial separate from the Parnells, as she had requested.
Sands said he had already granted a two-week delay in the start of the trial “in an abundance of caution” to make up for certain documents being late in getting to the defense from the prosecution. He called dismissing the charges against her “an extreme sanction,” and he said that he was not granting Wilkerson a separate trial because no memorandum of law was included for that part of her motion.
The judge also struck down a motion from Stewart Parnell’s attorneys requesting that the court take “judicial notice” of the fact that Salmonella is injurious to human health. Parnell’s defense team wanted such a judicial notice to cut down on witness testimony about Salmonella-related illnesses.
All the charges stem from an investigation into the 2008-09 nationwide Salmonella outbreak that sickened more than 700 people and resulted in nine deaths. The source of the outbreak was traced to PCA’s Blakely, GA, peanut processing plant.
The deadly outbreak led to the largest food recall based on a single ingredient in U.S history. Almost 4,000 products thought to contain PCA peanut butter or peanut paste were subsequently recalled by hundreds of U.S. food companies.
(Editor’s note: Dallas Carter was the courtroom observer for Food Safety News and assisted in compiling this report.)
A five-month Guardian investigation which uncovered “hygiene failings” at two of the largest UK poultry processors has prompted the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and three major supermarkets in the UK to launch their own inquiries.
The allegations have been directed at two factories owned by 2 Sisters Food Group which supply fresh chicken and chicken for ready meals to Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, M&S, KFC and a slaughterhouse owned by Faccenda, which supplies Asda and Nando’s.
Incidents from the last month that the Guardian identified included “a factory floor flooded with chickens guts in which the bacteria can flourish, carcasses coming into contact with workers’ boots then returned to the production line and other poor practices involving points in the production chain that increase the risk of its spread.”
Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer told the newspaper that they had launched their own investigations into the allegations. FSA said it “conducted detailed audits” at the 2 Sisters plants on July 25 and that initial results showed one plant as “Good” and the other as “Generally Satisfactory.”
The investigations are occurring as FSA reverses its decision to “name and shame” supermarkets and processors by publishing their Campylobacter results every quarter. The agency fears that the results could be misinterpreted or potentially cause a “food scare.”
“Other government departments have reflected to us concerns which are the same as those we’ve heard directly from retailers and producers,” Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA told the Guardian. “We’re not letting the industry off the hook. We’ll publish all the names when we’ve completed [the survey] next summer.”
Campylobacter is the most common foodborne pathogen in the UK, with an estimated 280,000 cases and 39,000 doctor consultations. Other common foodborne pathogens include Clostridium perfringens (an estimated 80,000 cases), Norovirus (an estimated 74,000 cases) and Salmonella (an estimated 33,000 cases). Salmonella was ranked first in terms of hospital admissions (about 2,500), indicating the severity of illness.
On Wednesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Tax (SWEET) Act — a tax on drinks such as sodas, energy drinks, sweet teas and sports drinks that she first announced at the National Soda Summit in Washington, D.C., on June 5.
The SWEET Act would institute an excise tax of 1 cent per teaspoon— 4.2 grams — of caloric sweetener, including sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. This would add about 9 cents to the cost of a 12-ounce can of Coke.
Exceptions to the rule include milk and plant-based milk substitutes, 100-percent fruit or vegetable juices, infant formula, dietary aids and alcoholic beverages.
Currently, there are some small sales taxes on sodas in food stores and vending machines in more than 30 states and D.C., but proposed excise taxes — those that are levied on the beverage distributor and then cause shelf prices to rise — have failed to come to fruition in several states and cities.
The next battlegrounds over sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) taxes are San Francisco and Berkeley, CA, where the proposals have been put on the general-election ballot in November.
DeLauro and other proponents of SSB taxes argue that they can help with the national epidemics of obesity and diabetes by directing consumers away from the products and also raising money to fund prevention and treatment programs and with research and nutrition education to help reduce the human and economic costs of related health problems.
“There is a clear relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and a host of other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and tooth decay,” DeLauro said in a statement. “We are at a crucial tipping point, and the SWEET Act will help correct the path we are currently on.”
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons and men no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day. A 12-ounce can of regular Coke contains about nine teaspoons of sugar.
“Overweight and obesity are responsible for an estimated $190 billion in health care costs nationally, or approximately 5 to 10 percent of all medical spending — with over 20 percent of these costs paid publicly through the Medicare and Medicaid programs,” reads the SWEET Act.
Public health and consumer groups that have also thrown their support behind the bill include the American Public Health Association, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
According to CSPI, the SSB tax would raise around $10 billion a year for diet-related disease prevention programs.
However, not everyone supports the bill. One major opponent is the American Beverage Association (ABA) — the trade association that represents America’s non-alcoholic beverage industry and has members such as the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Honest Tea Inc., Kraft Foods, ROCKSTAR Inc. and Red Bull North America Inc.
“The soda tax is an old idea that has gotten no traction in federal government, states and cities across the U.S.,” said Christopher Gindlesperger, ABA’s senior director for public affairs. “People don’t support taxes and bans on common grocery items, like soft drinks. That’s why the public policy debate in the U.S. has moved away from taxes and bans and onto real solutions.”
Gindlesperger added that ABA has voluntarily removed full-calorie soft drinks from schools nationwide, placed calorie labels on all packaging and vending machines, and supports community programs that promote balanced diets and physical activity.
ABA also argues that SSBs are not the main source of added sugars for children and teens and that a tax on sugary drinks unfairly singles out the industry.
Supporters of failed proposals to tax SSBs in New York, California, Maine, Washington and elsewhere have said that the attempts still got the public’s attention and helped to spread awareness.
“I wouldn’t put money on this Congress’s doing anything so likely to promote health, but it seems pretty clear that the time for sugary taxes has come,” Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and professor of sociology at New York University, told Food Safety News.
“Whether the sugar and soda lobbies can keep fending them off is another matter,” she said. “At some point, they may get tired of pouring millions into defeating these initiatives and even more millions into electing members of Congress who will support them.”
Nestle added that DeLauro is “courageous to give this a try and bring the matter to public attention.”
The Southwestern Wisconsin Dairy Goat Products Cooperative of Mt. Sterling, WI, is recalling Raw Milk Mild Cheddar Cheese Lot Code 103-114 because it may be contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O111:H8 bacteria.
The recall was initiated after a case of two five-pound loaves in the original packaging was collected on July 8 from an offsite warehouse. The product sample tested positive for Shiga toxin and was contaminated with E. coli O111:H8.
This product was distributed in the Midwest and Southwest regions of the U.S. and sent through distributorship in Wisconsin and Georgia. From these two states, this product was then sent to retail stores in the Midwest and Southwest.
This product was packed as an 8-oz. cryovac retail-size piece with the code 103-114 on a sticker attached to the side of the cheese. This product is all white in appearance and has a front and back separate label. The back label is a black-and-white nutrition and ingredient label and the front label is a yellow-and-blue colored label with the Mt. Sterling Coop Creamery brand name.
Consumers who may have purchased this product with the code date listed are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-608-734-3151.
No illnesses have been reported to date. E. coli O111:H8 is one of the six STEC strains that have been deemed to be of serious health concern as it can cause diarrheal illness, often with bloody stools, and may lead to more severe complications such as Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). HUS is most likely to occur in young children, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals and can lead to severe kidney damage and even death.
Just like last summer, illnesses involving prolonged watery diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis are spreading across the country from Texas. Public health officials suspect the parasite is riding into the United States on contaminated fresh produce grown in Mexico for the U.S. market. They just don’t yet know the exact source, where it’s grown, and how it’s being distributed here.
During the past week, the outbreak has expanded by several states, with the number of confirmed cases growing to 202, up from the 61 illnesses reported nationally as recently as July 23. With 110 illnesses, the Lone Star State accounts for more than half of the nation’s current cases, with illnesses being reported in 29 of the 254 counties in Texas.
“Though a source has yet to be identified, past outbreaks have been traced to fresh imported produce,” the Texas Department of State Health Services said. “DSHS encourages people to wash produce thoroughly, though that may not entirely eliminate the risk because Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off.”
Last summer, a June-peaking national outbreak of Cyclosporiasis ultimately saw 631 people sickened in 25 states. Last year’s Cyclospora outbreak caused some confusion and contention among the state’s investigating it. Iowa and Nebraska thought the infections were caused by bagged mixed salads served by restaurants, while Texas officials named fresh cilantro grown in Puebla, Mexico.
This year, interviews conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have attributed about 25 illnesses to foreign travel. Before last summer, Cyclospora outbreaks from food or water sources in the U.S. have been sporadic since imported raspberries arrived here two decades ago.
Carried by food or water contaminated by feces, the illness is cause by a parasite that’s common in tropical or subtropical counties. The onset of illness typically occurs within two to 14 days after the oocytes are consumed. It results in profuse diarrhea that can last for a couple weeks to several months. Other symptoms are a low-grade fever, nausea and vomiting, bloating and gas, anorexia and fatigue.
Several food companies are recalling carob powder or carob-containing products for potential Salmonella contamination.
On July 22, Earth Circle Organics issued the first recall for its Organic Carob Powder after the company was notified by its supplier that the product could be contaminated with Salmonella.
Products were sold to distributors and retail outlets in North America.Product SKU Lot # UPC Code Exp Date CRBP16ow 3642; 3404; 3221; 3267 894932002283 6/5/2015 CRBP5lb 3405; 3262 894932002733 6/5/2015 CBP20lb 3487; 3387; 3292 813313011485 6/5/2015 CRBP55lb 201901; 196201; 194801; 188901; 0786 894932002740 6/5/2015
The following products have been sold in British Columbia and Alberta, and may have been sold in other Canadian provinces or through Internet sales.Brand Name Common Name Size Code(s) on Product UPC Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 16 oz 3642, 3404, 3221, 3267 8 94932 00228 3 Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 5 lb 3405, 3262 8 94932 00273 3 Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 20 lb 3487, 3387, 3292 8 13313 01148 5 Earth Circle Organics Organic Carob Powder 55 lb 201901, 196201, 194801, 188901, 0786 8 94932 00274 0 Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic 75 g 3405 1 37101 67696 1 Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic ½ lb(227 g) 3405, 3262 1 37101 61636 3 Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic 2 lb 3405 None Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary Carob Raw Powder (Ceratonia siliqua) Organic 10 lb 3405 None
Dancing Star LLC, of Buckland, MA, has also issued a recall for various snacks because they contain organic carob powder from Ciranda Inc., in Hudson, WI. The products in this recall include:
Dancing Star brand:
- Carob Supergreens Chunks of Energy (10# UPC 7-69270-20005–2), production lots (0844-1, 0844-2, 0844-3, 0954-1, 0954-2, 0954-3, 0954-4, 0994-1, 0994-2, 1014, 1094-1, 1094-2, 1094-3, 1154-1, 1154-2, 1154-3, 1154-4, 1574, 1634-1,1634-2, 1634-3, 1644, 1684, 1744-1, 1744-2, 1744-3, 1824-1, 1824-2, 1924-1, 1924-2, 1994).
- Carob Supergreens Chunks of Energy (7 oz UPC 7-69270-70008-8), production lot 1014.
- Date Flax with Turmeric Chunks of Energy (10# UPC 7-69270-20004-5), production lots (0794-1, 0794-2, 0794-3, 0954, 1004, 1084, 1124, 1134-1, 1134-2, 1134-3, 1134-4, 1134-5, 1624-3, 1784-1, 1914, 1974).
- Date Flax Turmeric Chunks of Energy (7 oz UPC 7-69270-70006-4), production lot 1004.
Rave Bites Brand:
- Rave Bites Carob Supergreens (7oz UPC 7-69270-70008-8), Sell By Date 6/06/15.
- Rave Bites Date Flax with Turmeric (7oz UPC 7-69270-70006-4), Sell By Dates 4/10/15 and 4/25/15.
Bulk Carob Powder:
- Bulk organic Carob powder (10# UPC 7-69270-80001-6) Julian dates (0154, 0914, 0974, 0994, 1044, 1054, 1114, 1154, 1194, 1534, 1684, 1704, 1824, 1894).
GoMacro, of Viola, WI, is recalling its MARCOBARS brand almond butter + carob lots 1634 and 1645 and sunflower butter + chocolate lot 1646. Affected MacroBars will be clearly marked as either almond butter + carob with lot numbers 1634 (expiration 10 Mar 15) or 1645 (expiration 18 Mar 15) or sunflower butter + chocolate lot 1646 (expiration 18 Mar 15) and in a foil wrapper.
And CaCoCo, Inc. has issued a recall for its Raw Drinking Chocolates “Original” and “Global Warrior” containing the Organic Carob Powder.
Products were sold to California distributors, retail outlets, and farmers markets in 8.14 oz. and 2 lbs. bags. The Original and Global Warrior products in this recall include:Lot # UPC Code Exp. Date OG99 091131352113 10/19/2014 OG100 091131352113 11/28/2014 OG101 091131352113 06/18/2015 GW99 091131352076 10/19/2014 GW100 091131352076 11/28/2014 GW101 091131352076 06/18/2015
Hummingbird Wholesale has recalled its Organic Raw Carob Powder sold to processors and retail outlets in Oregon, Washington, and California and to the end consumer in Oregon in 20 lb boxes and 5 lb bags between the dates of 5/22/14 through 7/24/14:HW Item # Lot # Sunfood UPC Code Exp Date C110 14069, 14059 803813-04429 8 6/5/2015, or
11/2015 C110-5# 14189, 14177,
14156, 14142 N/A No expiration date
on these packages
Consumers who have purchased these products with the above-stated lot numbers and expiration dates are asked not to consume the product and discard it or return the product to the original point of purchase.
Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometime fatal infections in young children, frail, or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (e.g., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.
Michigan farmers and some of their downstate customers are still talking about an enforcement action taken two weeks ago by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The incident has prompted hundreds of comments on local newspaper and Facebook pages.
A delivery truck from Standish, MI-based My Family Co-Op was making its run south on Interstate 75 to Macomb and Oakland counties with products also from High Hill Dairy when it was stopped by state agricultural inspectors. Once they discovered what was in the truck’s load, they seized it, requiring the driver to dump 250 gallons of raw milk and smash about 100 dozen organic eggs. All totaled, about $3,600 in raw and organic products were destroyed.
While this latest incident is coming in for attention, the state routinely conducts seizures. Last year, routine inspections led to 773 seizures of illegal food products.
Michigan cow-share agreements require customers to sign contacts stating they may “obtain” raw milk from the dairy — they don’t “buy” it. Deliveries are usually quick hand-offs in church parking lots.
My Family Co-op confirmed its deliveries were seized on July 15. A substitute driver allowed state agriculture inspectors to search the truck without demanding a warrant.
“They jumped on the truck, they whipped out their badges,” My Family’s owner said. “They said it was a licensing issue.”
State agriculture inspectors said the eggs were not clean, and butter, cream and buttermilk were not properly labeled and some were from a business that closed two years ago. The Michigan Department of Agriculture also wants the co-op to obtain a retail license.
Following the incident, some have charged that state inspectors are only targeting organic products.
Also, it appears the customers who were to get the deliveries already owned all the products destroyed. They were paying $9 per gallon for the raw milk.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that dairy investigators looked at outbreaks between 1998 and 2011 and found that 79 percent of them were due to raw milk or cheese. From 1998 through 2011, 148 outbreaks due to consumption of raw milk or raw milk products were reported to CDC. These resulted in 2,384 illnesses, 284 hospitalizations and two deaths.
Last week, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy leaked a draft chapter of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) currently being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. The chapter proposed by the European Commission in June concerns Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues with food safety and animal and plant health.
“This leaked draft T-TIP chapter doesn’t tell us everything about where negotiations are headed on food safety, but it tells us enough to raise some serious concerns,” wrote IATP’s Steve Suppan in an analysis of the document.
The first objective listed in the chapter is to facilitate trade “to the greatest extent possible while preserving each Party’s right to protect animal or plant life or health in its territory and respecting each Party’s regulatory systems, risk assessment, risk management and policy development processes.”
The second is to ensure that SPS measures “do not create unjustified barriers to trade.” Consumer advocates worry that this provision will be used to undermine food safety, environmental, public health and labor standards.
Other objectives include improving communication and cooperation on SPS measures, improving predictability and transparency of each party’s SPS measures, and reaching a common understanding concerning animal welfare standards.
Two of Suppan’s key concerns about the chapter are that it supports doing away with port-of-entry food inspections and testing requirements and that it could make it more difficult to restrict imports from countries with animal diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as “mad cow disease.”
The IATP analysis also says that although the T-TIP document encourages measures to prevent trade in abused animals, it does not mandate compliance with animal welfare laws.
The draft chapter does establish a a Joint Management Committee to discuss concerns about U.S. and EU SPS regulations, but it makes no reference to how this committee would interact with the proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, a private tribunal of trade lawyers which would decide whether one of the parties is violating a T-TIP rule or enforcement measure.
“Consumers who expect to discover in the draft SPS chapter where the negotiations stand on specific consumer concerns, such as the non-therapeutic use of veterinary drugs like antibiotics allowed in U.S. meat and poultry production, or the import and labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, will be disappointed,” Suppan wrote.
Some of the missing details might be included in the referenced Annexes which have yet to be negotiated, or at least disclosed. And it’s important to note that the draft is not one that has been agreed to by both the European Commission and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
“I think the draft illustrates that although trade officials keep saying that food safety standards will not be compromised, there is reason for people to be concerned,” said Debbie Barker, International Director for the Center for Food Safety. “Although it seems that EU trade officials, at the behest of public outcry, will not abandon EU food safety standards outright (such as suddenly agreeing to accept imports of U.S. hormone-injected beef), standards could be effectively whittled down through more subtle aspects of the agreement and in ways that make it more complex for the public to ascertain how safety standards could be affected.”
A major criticism of T-TIP is that the negotiations and relevant documents are not made public, so consumer advocates concerned with what the potential outcomes might be have to rely on leaked documents such as this SPS chapter. More than 250 organizations sent a letter to the European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht, in May calling on him to open the negotiation process to the public by releasing the negotiating mandate, documents submitted by the EU, and negotiating texts.
“This leaked document more clearly illustrates why it is essential for T-TIP negotiating texts to be released after each negotiating round,” Barker said. “This is the only way the public will be able to know what is really being negotiated.”
President Obama announced T-TIP in June 2013, saying that the agreement “would increase exports, decrease barriers to trade and investment,” and, as part of strategies to grow both U.S. and European economies, “it would support hundreds of thousands of jobs on both sides of the ocean.”
But with the wide proliferation of new laboratory technology on the horizon, outbreak investigations could soon become more accurate, more efficient and more complete, according to researchers at Cornell University, the New York State Department of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The new technology is known as rapid whole-genome sequencing, a process of analyzing the complete DNA sequence of organisms, included foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli. It’s the same technology used to generate the human genome, but in epidemiology, the process grants investigators the ability to much more precisely identify organisms causing outbreaks, right down to their DNA.
Older forms of bacterial subtyping, such as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), are still important for the detection and investigation of outbreaks, but they lack the level of detail needed for outbreak detection. In other words, it’s been impossible until the advent of genome sequencing to truly know whether two people infected with the same strain of pathogen were genuinely sickened by the same food source.
By letting investigators identify a bacterium down to the DNA, genome sequencing allows much more certainty when matching clusters of illnesses and narrowing down the list of potential food sources. For example, two people in the same area might both be sick with Salmonella Heidelberg from two different sources, but investigators could only know that the illnesses were unrelated by looking at the bacteria’s DNA.
The technology has been in use at a select number of laboratories around the country for a little more than a year now. Earlier this year, a deadly outbreak of Listeria in Maryland was traced back to Delaware-based dairy manufacturer Roose Foods through genome sequencing. Health officials were then able to shut the facility down.
“What genome sequencing allows us to do with food traceback is unprecedented. It’s like upgrading from an old backyard telescope to the Hubble,” said Dr. Eric Brown, director of the Division of Microbiology at FDA’s Office of Regulatory Science.
Brown and FDA colleagues recently collaborated with researchers from Cornell University and the New York State Department of Health to demonstrate the feasibility of using whole-genome sequencing to investigate foodborne illness outbreaks in a state health laboratory.
Their study, published in the August 2014 edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, consisted of two parts. The first was an analysis of bacterial samples from a known Salmonella outbreak occurring in 2010. Using whole-genome sequencing, the researchers were able to attribute additional cases to the outbreak that were not — and could not have been — attributed when the original investigators relied on PFGE.
The second part of the study involved the real-time use of genome sequencing in conjunction with PFGE technology to analyze incoming Salmonella cases in 2012. In that test, genome sequencing found more cases connected to an outbreak than could be determined using PFGE.
The conclusion: Whole-genome sequencing “vastly improved” the detection of outbreak cases and the amount of detail available to investigators.
“Using PFGE, we couldn’t find much meaningful differences between strains. But by using whole-genome sequencing, we can establish much better relationships between bacteria in the population,” said Dr. Henk den Bakker, research associate at Cornell’s Department of Food Science and lead author of the study.
As whole-genome sequencing becomes more widespread, there will be less reason to use PFGE, den Bakker added.
Until recently, whole-genome sequencing technology was simply too costly for most public health laboratories to use, although the technology is quickly becoming more cost-effective. Part of that cost is due to labs needing someone on staff who can translate the genetic information into information epidemiologists can use in their investigations.
Right now, the field of epidemiology is entering a transition period where genome sequencing is replacing PFGE. A vast amount of historic PFGE data exist on outbreak networks, however, and epidemiologists are now working to sequence historic pathogenic samples to enhance new whole-genome databases.
One such database is FDA’s Genome Trakr Network, a pilot database for state and federal laboratories to collect and share genomic data on foodborne pathogens. The network currently consists of seven state health department labs and 10 FDA field labs, according to FDA.
“It’s clear that we’re going to be adopting and expanding genome sequencing to many more state labs. State labs are the boots on the ground,” said Dr. Marc Allard, research area coordinator for genomics for the Division of Microbiology at FDA’s Office of Regulatory Science.
Beyond the states, the Genome Trakr database will network with international databases under the umbrella of the Global Microbial Identifier. In the future, every new outbreak sample will be compared with global records to track the sources of outbreaks and determine when or where new pathogens are emerging.
And, ultimately, the researchers say it should lead to a system that prevents more illnesses worldwide by tracking down the sources faster and more accurately.
“What’s the cost of not finding the food source?” Allard asked. “More people getting sick and potentially dying, along with larger recalls and more litigation. [Whole-genome sequencing] will have a such a broad impact on public health that it’s difficult to estimate.”
The meat industry may still be waiting on the World Trade Organization to make a call on country-of-origin labeling (COOL), but in the meantime they’ve lost another round in their fight against the rule in the D.C. Circuit courts.
COOL laws mandate that meat products be labeled to tell where the food animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The American Meat Institute (AMI) has challenged the laws in U.S. courts on behalf of meat producers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Writing the majority opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Williams said that the interest of providing consumers with information overcame claims of free speech raised by AMI.
Tuesday’s decision by a split court of 11 judges reinforced an earlier decision made by a panel of three.
“The court’s decision today is disappointing,” said AMI Interim President and CEO James H. Hodges in a statement. “We have maintained all along that the country of origin rule harms livestock producers and the industry and affords little benefit to consumers. This decision will perpetuate those harms. We will evaluate our options moving forward.”
Consumer groups, on the other hand, celebrated the decision.
“We applaud the D.C. Circuit decision, which is an important victory for the U.S. public’s right to know how their food is produced,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety. “The Court confirmed that manufacturers do not have the right to avoid basic factual disclosures about their food products.”
The COOL law was adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May 2013, but enforcement of the rule is still developing.
Canada and Mexico have both filed complaints to the World Trade Organization on COOL. A decision from the organization is still pending.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced Monday that La Fromagerie Hamel is recalling La Fromagerie Hamel brand “St-Felicien lait cru France (Rhone-Alpes)” cheese from the marketplace due to possible E. coli O26:H11 contamination.
There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product, which was distributed to retail outlets in Quebec.
Consumers should not consume the recalled product described below:
La Fromagerie Hamel “St-Felicien lait cru France (Rhone-Alpes),” 180 g, 11772104, Best Before 19/08/2014, no UPC.
Check to see if you have recalled product in your home. Recalled product should be thrown out or returned to the store where it was purchased.
Food contaminated with E. coli O26:H11 may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal cramps and watery to bloody diarrhea. In severe cases of illness, some people may have seizures or strokes, need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis or live with permanent kidney damage. In severe cases of illness, people may die.
This recall was triggered by a recall in another country. CFIA is conducting a food safety investigation, which may lead to the recall of other products. If other high-risk products are recalled, the agency will notify the public through updated Food Recall Warnings.
Cost concerns and general opposition may prompt Hawaii to try and follow California by repealing new state health rules requiring food service workers to use utensils or gloves when preparing sushi or other ready-to-eat foods.
The new rules just went into effect July 21 and have already drawn criticism from restaurant managers who say that wearing gloves while preparing certain foods is problematic, especially for sushi chefs.
“There’s a lot of frustration. They’re trying really hard to feel the rice, the dab of wasabi, the texture of the fish,” said Chad Yang, general manager of the Morimoto Waikiki Japanese restaurant in Honolulu.
Other critics say that having to use disposable gloves while preparing food just creates more garbage and slows down their work. The rules do allow a food establishment to apply for an exemption from the glove requirement, but only if handwashing practices are meticulously documented.
Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi bar applied for an exemption, and the owner indicated that his staff intends to follow the associated requirements.
“They can’t get a feel for the rice, firstly. Secondly, they don’t want any cross-contamination with different species of fish. So every time they cut a different fish, they do wash their hands,” Craig Mitchell said.
A food safety consultant on Oahu noted that his business is booming since the new rules went into effect.
“Let’s just say my business is up quite a bit this year over last year. Everybody is panicking and I have people on wait lists all over the place,” said Tom Frigge.
Despite the criticism, state health officials say there are no plans to change the no-bare-hands rule when preparing ready-to-eat foods.
Just last month, the state assembly in California passed legislation repealing its glove law and replacing it with less-restrictive food safety regulations. Gov. Jerry Brown subsequently signed the repeal bill just before the new rules were to go into effect on July 1.